November 3, 2013

JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE WORLD continues...






          John Lundin is currently living with the indigenous peoples of La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia, learning from them and writing a new novel that will share their spiritual and environmental message with the world – their message that our Earth Mother is gravely ill and she will surely die if we, the ones they call the Younger Brother, do not change our ways. The Arhuaco and Kogi, descendants of the ancient Tayrona, fled the onslaught of the Spanish conquerors and shut themselves off from the outside world. Their way of life has remained largely unchanged for more than five hundred years. They consider themselves – and their sacred mountain home – to be the Heart of the World.

The elders have invited author Lundin to live with them, to learn from them, and to write this new book to help them share their urgent message.

This is an excerpt from the novel under construction, Journey to the Heart of the World, and is a teaching from the elders – the Mamos – that was actually given to the author and which has been fictionalized in the book. The hero of the novel is Christian Castagno, an 18-year-old teenager from New York who is led by a talking owl butterfly to the mountains of Colombia where he receives the life-changing teachings of the elders. He carries with him a letter given to him by his mother on the day she died of cancer, a letter that guides his spiritual quest.

This first teaching sets the tone for all the teachings that will follow…


* * * * *


          Niankua and the others were waiting for me on the hillside. They greeted me with words that sounded like “azi mazuri,” and Niankua pulled something from his shoulder bag, his mochilla, and said, “When we meet, we offer each other the coca leaves. I give some to you, and you give some to me. It is a practice in giving and receiving. The leaves of the coca plant are a gift, a gift of energy. Whenever we receive a gift we must always give back something in return.”  He then retrieved a small mochilla from his larger one and handed it to me. “These are your leaves. Put some in your mouth, in your cheek, and chew on them. Keep the others to give back later.”

I put a generous pinch of the dry leaves into my mouth and chewed on them. They had very little flavor, but soon there was a slight tingling sensation on my tongue and cheek. I did as the others were doing; I chewed on them as I would chew gum or maybe chewing tobacco.  It didn’t seem to be giving me any kind of a high or anything like that.

Niankua held up his gourd and explained, “When a boy becomes a man he receives the poporo. With the poporo we release the full energy of the leaves.” He pulled the stick from the gourd, the stick he was constantly dipping in the gourd then pulling out and rubbing against the outside of the gourd. He placed the stick in his mouth, licking the white substance from its tip. “Younger Brother is not yet ready for the poporu.”

Niankua and the others kept working their gourds, their poporo, constantly dipping the stick in the gourd, dipping it in their mouth, and seeming to paint the sides of the gourd with it. Me, I just kept chewing my coca leaves.

“When a young boy is recognized by the elders as a future Mamo, he is brought to a place away from the others, to his own hut, where he is hidden from all distractions and carefully taught by the elder Mamos. He learns how it was in the beginning, and learns the long story of our people, the original people. He discovers Aluna, how to enter into her world, how to divine what she is revealing to us. He learns how we are called to care for our Earth Mother. He learns how to heal. He discovers everything that has been passed on to the Mamos before him. In time it is all revealed to him, so that one day he can be a leader and can pass on all that has been revealed to him, so he can show the way to those who will follow. This teaching takes many years for the young Mamo.

“We have called you to come to the mountain, to leave your world behind, to be alone in this place, free of all distraction, to receive the teachings. We will teach you. But with you we do not have many years as we do with a young Mamo. Our Earth Mother is suffering. She is in need of healing. Every day we see the changes, we see the disease spreading. Every day we do our job, we do our work, we care for our Earth Mother. But it is no longer enough. We have seen what is happening to the mountain and what is happening beyond our world. We can no longer ignore what the Younger Brother is doing. If Younger Brother does not awaken and change his ways, if he does not become the healer instead of the one spreading the disease, then our Earth Mother will surely die.”

Niankua looked deep into my eyes as he delivered his solemn warning directly to my heart. His eyes were almost tearful as he made it clear this was serious business. We were about to begin the teachings that he fervently hoped would change my life and begin to change the world.




“In the beginning, the natural law was given to the original people. It is written in the colors – it is written on the stone and in the water, in the colors of the rocks and the land, the colors of the oceans and the rivers and the snows, the colors of the plants and the trees, the colors of the birds and the animals and the fishes, and the colors of the people - the brown people, the white people and the black people, the red people and the yellow people and the peoples of all colors in between. The Younger Brother can learn to read the colors - with much spiritual work and effort.”

I felt like I felt when my mother first started schooling me at home. With her I always felt I was being given the gift of knowledge, not just facts to memorize; revelation that would pique my natural curiosity, knowledge that would inform my experience and grow into wisdom. She always told me the Earth was our best teacher, and I felt as though she was speaking to me now.

“In the beginning there was nothing – no land, no water, no plants or animals, no people. Nothing. Only Aluna. Only the fertile sea of thought that is Aluna. Aluna is the creative imagination, the mind, the consciousness. Everything is created in Aluna; everything is created in the imagination. Nothing comes into being until it is imagined. When it is imagined it comes into being. So it was with Aluna, in the beginning. All that is was first imagined, imagined in Aluna. Everything was born in the imagining. Aluna is the ultimate reality, the source of our being. Aluna is everything that is, everything that was or ever will be. We - you and I, the Elder Brother and the Younger Brother - we were all given birth in the creative imagination of Aluna.”



He motioned for me to rise and follow him to a point on the hill where we could view the entire valley and the mountains beyond. With a sweeping wave of his arm he pointed to the broad horizon.

“In the beginning…there was nothing. No valley, no river, no mountains, no birds, not even the sky. All that you see in this world was first imagined in Aluna. Nothing was ever created that was not first imagined. Everything that has ever been created was born first in the imagination. The creative imagination has given birth to all that has ever come into being. Everything.”

I was looking out at the world from my new vantage point. I was watching the water, watching the birds, watching the sky, and already starting to see everything in a new way. It was as if I was seeing it all for the very first time. It was as if my new teacher was holding the world in his hand and rotating it, turning it around and around and saying to me, look at it in a different way, from a different angle. Look at it from here. Look at it this way. All of this, everything, was created in the imagination.

“Everything was created in the imagination of Aluna. First she imagined the sky and the sun and the moon and the stars. She imagined them into being. And then she imagined the land and the mountains, the oceans and the rivers, and then she imagined the plants and the animals and the birds into being.

“Finally she imagined the people into becoming, the people she imagined would care for all she had created, the people who would nurture it, protect it. The people who would be the living heart of the world she had imagined into being.”

He explained that the Mamos knew all the details of how everything was created but that it would take nine years to explain it all to me, and the details were not something I needed to know anyway. The process of creating, of bringing that which was imagined into being, was like spinning thread on a spindle, like the men weaving their clothing on the loom, like the women weaving the mochilla with their hands.

“The Mother stuck her spindle in the fertile ground of her imagination and spun it, turning the world of her imagining on its axis, spinning out a thread which is both time and space, creating first a heap of thread that is the mountain, and then more and more, spiraling ever outward, eventually weaving the fabric that is the whole of the world. All the patterns and all the colors she had imagined are carefully woven into place, and finally the complex tapestry emerges. Aluna created all this that you see with her spindle and loom. She created and is still creating. We remember this whenever the men weave the clothes and when the women weave the mochilla. Our clothes, our mochilla, everything, may be helped into this world by our hands, may be shaped on our loom, but they were first born in the Mother’s imagining. Everything that is or has been existed first in the world of Aluna before it came into being in our world.”

He motioned again toward the world that was spread out before our eyes, and then reached down and took hold of a yellow flower growing at his feet.

“Everything is from Aluna, everything is one with Aluna. All the plants and animals, the mountains and waters, the sky and the birds – and all the people – were one in Aluna and all are still one with Aluna.”

A butterfly landed on the flower he was holding, not an owl butterfly this time but a bright yellow one, the color of the flower he was holding. Niankua extended his hand toward the butterfly who fearlessly came to rest on his finger.

“Since everything is from Aluna, we are all a part of the same One. You are the sun and the rain, the water and the plants, the birds and the animals. There is no such thing as ‘nature,’ apart from you and me. You are nature, I am nature, just as you are me and I am you.”




Now it was the other Mamos’ turn. As we walked along the ridge, looking at the view of the valley, they explained to me that the energy of Aluna, the creative energy, had been woven into the mountain. One of them used a branch to inscribe a triangle in the dirt, saying the mountain was a pyramid, a pyramid of energy. It was the job of the Mamos to maintain the balance and harmony of the mountain’s energy. “Everyone has a job to do, every plant and animal has a job to do. The Mamo’s job is to care for the mountain, the heart of the world. If the heart is healthy, if she is beating in harmony with the natural rhythms of the Earth, then the earth is healthy. If the mountain is not healthy, if the energy of the mountain is out of balance, out of rhythm, then the whole world is out of balance.”

Another of the four Mamos stepped forward and continued the teaching:

“The mountain is the heart of the world, and those of us who care for her are the heart of the world as well. There is no difference, no separation; we are one - the mountain, the people, the heart of the world. The mother created the people, created them from her offspring, from her first born. She created the first peoples to look after her creation, to care for it, to be the caretakers of the world, to be the heart of the world here on the mountain that is the heart of the world. The plants and the trees, the animals and the birds were placed in the people’s care, not for the people to dominate and exploit but for the people to take care of.

“The people were created in the imagination of Aluna, and the people have a spark of that creative imagination within them. The plants and the animals do not. The people can dream, can imagine a future; the plants and animals cannot. The people were created with a compassionate heart, a loving kindness that was given to them so that they would understand that their purpose is to care for all the others. The plants and the animals do not have that kind of compassionate heart, do not have a creative imagination. The plants and animals only know their one small job in life, and they only know how to do it. It is the people’s job to protect them so that they can continue to do their job. That is the people’s only job, their purpose on this mountain, on all the Earth – to care for and protect all the others.”

The fourth Mamo took another branch in hand and again drew a line on the ground.

“After the Mother created the original peoples, the Elder Brother, she created a second people, the Younger Brother. These second people also had a creative imagination, the ability to envision things and bring them into being. In fact, that was to be their job, their only job – imagining and making things. But their creative mind was like that of the monkey - they never developed, always jumping about, jumping from this branch to that, from this idea to that, always wanting new things. They wouldn’t stay still long enough to listen to the Mother, they paid no attention to the Mother’s teaching; they ignored the Natural Law. They only paid attention to their monkey mind, never listening to their compassionate heart. They consumed all their energy making and using things, and never developed their capacity to care for the things that were already around them. They developed their brain, but never developed their heart. They came to believe it was their job to conquer new worlds and ignored their responsibility to show loving kindness toward the world the Mother had created.”

He pointed to the line he had drawn in the dirt. “It is for this reason that the Younger Brother was expelled from the mountain. He was driven from the mountain and sent into exile across the sea. He was sent to a harsh land where it was cold and where the fruits did not grow and where the animals did not abound, and here he was free to occupy his time making and acquiring things in order to survive. The Elder Brother would continue to care for the mountain and the earth and leave the Younger Brother to follow his own pursuits on the other side of the ocean, in another part of the world.”



The four Mamos motioned for me to follow, and we made our way down the hillside toward the river and eventually to a collection of large boulders at the edge of the water. They pointed to strange markings on the stone, lines that were not unlike those on the rocks I had seen earlier in the Lost City.

“We did not mark this stone. The people did not mark the rock. It was marked by wind and water, inscribed in Aluna. It is a map of the mountain, and beyond. All the universe is inscribed here. A map of the past and a map of the future. The Mamos can read the map, can read the mountain. We can see the place of the mountain, the heart of the world, and we can see the places beyond, the lands beyond the mountain, beyond this valley, beyond the sea, the lands where the Younger Brother has been using all his energy making things. We can read the changes. We watch the water. We watch the birds. We watch the sky. We can see in them what is happening beyond the mountain. We can see the changes.”



They led me across the river, not across the bridge this time, but by wading through the shallow water. The Mamos don’t wear shoes or sandals, they explained, because they want to feel the land, feel the water. They’re always connected to the Earth in this way. Sandals on their feet would create a disconnect, an unhealthy separation. Touching the land with the soles of their feet is a constant reminder that they are one with the earth. They must have very strong soles since they’re constantly walking the trails and climbing the hills and crossing the river in their bare feet. I removed my shoes and waded into the river. The sun was already very warm and the icy cold waters were invigorating.



We crossed the river and walked toward the hills on the opposite side of the valley and began following the trail upward. There were clusters of huts and the villagers would peer at me through the open doors, the children peeking from behind the safety of their mother. I was the pale-faced curiosity, for sure. We continued walking for a considerable distance, at times climbing very steeply up the mountain. The Mamos walk very briskly and it was often a challenge for me to keep up. As we got higher and higher I could occasionally catch a glimpse of the snow-capped peaks in the distance, barely visible through the clouds just above the nearer mountains.

We climbed to the top of a ridge and started down the other side when I heard the sound of rushing water. The river water back on the floor of the valley had been very calm, but this was a loud and powerful sound. As we made our way down the steep hillside I could see a deep canyon below with the waters tumbling through it and down the mountain. And above the waters was a giant stream of water cascading down the entire height of the mountain before us. The waters fell hundreds of feet into the pool below before continuing over the edge into the canyon stream below. I have seen many waterfalls, before and since, but this may have been the most beautiful of all.



For some time we all stood silently, reverently gazing at the majesty of the water. It was a moment of meditation, of prayer. For a teenager like me it could easily have been a time to jump into the blue pool and frolic under the cascading waters, but that’s not what this particular moment in time called for. The Mamos quietly watched the waters fall and worked their poporu. I followed their lead and my mother’s advice - I watched the water, watched the water in awe and deep respect. It was clear the Mamos had brought me here for a reason, for another important lesson.

“In the beginning all was water. The water was the Mother, the water was Aluna. Where there is water there is life, there is memory of the past and potential for the future. It is in the water that everything can be imagined into being. Without the water, nothing can be imagined. Without water the plants would die, the people would die, the Mother herself would die. That is the most basic law. Without water there is no life. Take away the water and everything will die. That is the Law. The people cannot change the Law - not the Mamos, not the king, not the president, not the congress or the parliament. The Natural Law is constant, forever, unchangeable. Without water there can be no life. If we are to care for the world, first we must care for the water.”

I knew that, of course, but with the backdrop of the magnificent waterfall the message of the Mamos was powerful. In the beginning was the water. Water is life. Take away the water and you take away life. End of story.

“In the beginning we were formed in the water. The Mother formed us there. The waters are like the Mother’s milk, they give life to the new creation, to the child of her womb. We were all conceived in the waters of Aluna, in the creative imagination of the sea of Aluna. When you were conceived, it was known first in Aluna, it was known in the water. Your future was known in Aluna before you were born. You were conceived in the waters of Aluna before you were born beside the life-giving waters of all the oceans and rivers of this earth.”

It was as my mother had said, in her letter. And there was more:

“You were born upon that sea. Everything we would ever remember was first in the waters, in the ocean of Aluna. It always was. It was before it was. In the Mother’s knowing. All the worlds that stretch forever, beyond all the waters of all the rivers and beyond the beyond have always been in the Mother’s knowing. It always was, from the beginning. As long as there is water giving life to the plants and the trees, as long as there are clouds and rains and snow, the trees and skies will always hold all it is that we should remember.”

The teacher waded into the water at the base of the waterfall and beckoned for us all to follow. He held his poporu in both hands for a moment, lifting it toward the waterfall, offering a blessing. He dipped the stick in the poporu and then into his mouth. He placed the poporo in his mochilla, and with both hands he scooped up the water. Several times he scooped up the water and let it fall through his hands, through his fingers, the waters sparkling in the sun, the bubbles dancing on the pond. He lifted a handful of water and held it out toward me, for me to look into.



“All that ever was or ever will be is in the water, in the memory of the water, the memory of the sea of Aluna. Everything that ever was or ever will be has been born in the waters and nurtured by the waters. The water is Aluna, the water is life. If we watch the bubbles we can see the memory of all that was, a vision of all that will be. All we should remember can be found in the water.”

He turned his back to the waterfall and looked out at the horizon ahead, at where the water flowed to the edge and over the rock, falling in another cascade to stream into the ravine below. From there the water continued its journey down the mountain, joining the river below, and eventually making its way to the sea. Ahead we could see the whole valley and the mountains on the other side, and the snowy peaks above it all.

“As far as you can see,” he said with another broad wave of his hand, “everything is water. The plants and trees are water, the snows are water, the rivers and streams are water, of course. Even the mountains and hills, even the rocks and stones, are all water, filled with water, literally mountains of water. And you are water. There is nothing you can see that is not water. The water weaves everything together, all is alive, all is interwoven. And just as the water is alive, everything of the water is alive. The trees and the plants, the mountains and the rocks, the animals and the birds, even the sky and the clouds - all are alive, alive with water flowing through their veins. There is life in the smallest drop of water, and there is water flowing through the tallest mountain. Everything was born of the same water - every animal, every plant, every person, every mountain. All have the same Mother, all have the same water running through them. This is why every mountain is your brother, your sister, your mother and your grandmother. Every tree is your cousin. We are all a part of the same One.”

I had never thought of water in this way before. I have to admit, I had probably pretty much taken water for granted. I had always known water in my life, plenty of water, enough for drinking, taking a shower, watering the plants – there was always water around me and always enough water. It never ran out. So I guess I just took it for granted. Sure, I enjoyed looking at a beautiful lake or watching the sea as much as the next person, and I knew there was life in the water, the “little beasties” we had seen through the microscope in science class, but I had never seen water in this way before. I was seeing it in a different way, from a different perspective.



“When you look at the water, when you want to see deep inside the water, you always need to look at it from the four directions.”

 Like the butterfly, the Mamo seemed to know what I was thinking.

“Look at it from the north, from the south, from the east and from the west. Turn it around in your mind and view it from top to bottom, from left to right, then turn it upside-down and sideways and look at it again. You have to watch the water with both eyes wide open if you are to see the life within it. With the eyes of a child you must look deep into the colors of the bubbles. You must watch the water from all four directions if you are to also watch the sky, to watch the birds, to discover your self.”

I would never view water in the same way again, never again take it for granted.

“In the beginning there was the ocean of Aluna, the waters of pure consciousness, of mind, of creation. It was in the beginning, it has always been, it is now. Aluna created all and is still creating. Aluna imagined all before time and is now imagining the future. We can enter into Aluna, into her memory and into her vision, by watching the water, by looking deeply into the bubbles of the waters. It is in the bubbles that we can read the memory of all that ever was. It is in the bubbles that we can see a vision of our future. It is by entering into Aluna, by concentrating on all that is revealed in the colors of the bubbles, that our consciousness becomes one with the mind of Aluna. We were all born of Aluna, we are one with her and anyone can return to Aluna at any time. The Mamos enter into Aluna all the time.

“The Younger Brother has forgotten how. When the Younger Brother left the mountain behind he also left behind his connection with Aluna. Younger Brother lives his life without any sense of oneness with Aluna. The Mamos are different; we have never lost our way, never left Aluna. We return to the realm of Aluna every day. It is in Aluna that we first discovered the law of how things were and how things were to be. It is in Aluna that we continue to discern what we are called to do, to discover our job, to learn the purpose of everything in life and to know our place and our purpose in the Mother’s great plan, in her mind, in her vision for the future. And it is in Aluna that we can see beyond the beyond, what is happening in the world beyond the mountain. 

“We can see what is happening, we can discern the changes; we can read the future.”

I believed him. He could see the water as I had never seen it. He could read my mind. He could surely see the past and read the future. He was like a magician, but I was beginning to realize he was simply seeing clearly what was already there - there for anyone to see. The Mamos had never taken any of it for granted; they had never lost their ability to see with eyes wide open.



“In the beginning was the water, the sea of Aluna. The oceans and the rivers were born in the creative imagining of Aluna. Since the beginning of time, the waters have had a rhythm, the rhythm of life. The waters of the sea rise up to the sky, and the clouds are born. The clouds embrace the mountain, and the rains and the snow are born. The waters of the snow melt into the fertile earth and begin their journey down the mountain. They form the lakes that become the source of the rivers and streams that all flow back again to the sea. And then the cycle begins again, the circle of life. The waters have had a million lifetimes and will have a million more. Every lifetime is recorded in the memory of the water, in the memory of Aluna. Every new lifetime of the water has the potential to create new life on earth. In its many lifetimes, all of the water has lived in the plants, in the animals, in the mountains and the rivers, in you and in me. The water is the thread that binds us together. Every lifetime is interwoven. Every lifetime has been different and each one has been recorded in Aluna. Every one has been remembered.”

The Mamo silently worked his poporo, rubbing the stick on the shell of the gourd, seemingly looking into the memory that had been inscribed over the course of many meditations.

“We have seen the changes. We have seen the changes in the water. We look into the water with our eyes, with our listening, with our feeling, with all our senses, we enter into the sea of Aluna, and we watch the waters, we watch the birds, we watch the sky – and we see the changes. The waters are changing. The rain no longer comes as it used to. We have months with no rain at all, and months when the rain washes the earth into the sea. Every year the snows on the mountain recede. Soon there will be no snow at all, no waters for the lakes, the rivers, the streams. Water that used to be pure as the snow is now unclean. Plants that were green are now dry and brown. Places that used to be fertile valleys are now under water, and other places now have no water at all. We have seen the changes. And in Aluna we have seen the changes beyond the mountain, beyond the sea. And we have seen the changes beyond the changes, the changes that are yet to come.”

Each of the Mamos in turn offered a blessing in the direction of the waterfall, and tossed offerings from their mochilla into the waters below. Then they motioned for me to follow them down the mountain, pointing out plants and animals and special trees to me as we walked.



“We will show you the changes. We will climb the mountain to the snows, we will go down to the sea, we will follow the river, follow the water, and you will start to see. Today we will return to the village, to our river, and you can chew on all we have shared. And you can start to watch the water. Watch the water and begin to see what you have not seen before. Begin to open your eyes to what the bubbles will reveal.

“The Younger Brother can learn to read the bubbles, not as the Mamos can, but to read them nonetheless. There is no magic in it. It’s like looking at the stars – you don’t need to know the names of every star or which is bigger or farther away to learn something about your place in the universe just by looking at them. You don’t need to know how the bubbles work; you just have to be open to learning from them. You only need to let go of all that is keeping you from seeing clearly, all your old ways of perceiving, and let yourself be open to seeing the light in the bubbles, to see in a new way. Let go of thought and awaken yourself to knowing.”

Another Mamo added, “You can learn to see the changes, too. You can widen your vision and enter into Aluna. If you don’t learn to read the changes, they will happen without you being aware, and our Mother will die. The Mother will die if the Younger Brother does not open his eyes and awaken.”

And another Mamo: “Our Mother is dying and the Younger Brother is sleeping. He needs to open his eyes and awaken. Our Mother will not survive unless he opens his eyes, unless he is fully awakened to the reality of the world around him, the world he lives in.”

And still another Mamo said, “Over time we will show you more – we will wander the mountain together and you will begin to see the changes for yourself. We will teach you how to see what you are not seeing now.”

They took me back to the valley, to the river, and the led me to a place by the water where I could see the rushing waters tumbling down the hill into a calm pool of water at my feet. I could sit on a broad flat rock and look at all the waters – the calm waters, the rushing waters, the sparkling waters and the bubbles.

“This is your work for the rest of the day. Watch the water. Find yourself in the bubbles. Let yourself become one with the water."


* * * * *


         John Lundin is the author of THE NEW MANDALA – Eastern Wisdom for Western Living, written in collaboration with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His new novel, JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE WORLD, will be published in 2014 by Humanitas Media. A motion picture and transmedia adaptation is also in development in collaboration with Executive Producer Buck Allen.


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SCROLL DOWN to the next post to read CHAPTER ONE
of
JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE WORLD

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March 1, 2012

...the Journey to the Heart of theWorld continues...


March 1, 2012 - Minca, Colombia

I have officially arrived in La Sierra Nevada! Research and initial writing of my new book, presenting the spiritual and environmental message of the Elders (the Mamos) of the four indigenous peoples of La Sierra - the Kogi, Arhuacos, Cankuamo, and Wiwa - is officially underway. After spending four months in Medellin, engaged in research and improving my Spanish, I have now established a “home base” in Minca, in the foothills of La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a half-hour by car from the port city of Santa Marta. Minca is located in a “coastal jungle” climate zone, at about 2,500 feet altitude. The jungle greenery, with virtually every tropical fruit tree and flower imaginable, and the many colorful birds, some of which are found nowhere else on the planet, make this eco-village a magnificent gateway to La Sierra.

I have made two trips up the mountain to Nabusimake, the village that is the capital of the Arhuaco nation. The Arhuacos have lived in virtual isolation for more than 500 years, and even today their suspicion of outsiders I evident, with the road into the village being almost impassable. A very rough 2-hour off-road trip by Toyota Land Cruiser is the only way in. But the beautiful pastoral valley that would be my home and my classroom for the week was worth every bump and twist and turn in the road. The virtual lack of anything “modern” – no electricity, no vehicular traffic – and the myriad farm animals wandering the valley between the thatched huts creates a scene that takes one delightfully back in time.

I will be making the trip into the Nabusimake valley approximately once a month, to live with the villagers and to learn directly from the Mamos. The Mamos of the four pueblos have agreed to teach me what they call the natural law, and to convey to me their spiritual and environmental message so that I may in turn convey it to the world in a new book.

I will also be visiting the villages of the other three indigenous peoples of La Sierra, to eventually receive teachings from the Mamos of all four pueblos.

In addition to receiving spiritual teachings from the Mamos, I have been engaged in preliminary research for the book, visiting the Botanical Garden in Medellin, visiting with the curator of the butterfly house as well as learning about the myriad plants and trees and flowers of Colombia. Ad I have been learning about the birds from noted birding guides in Minca – a world-renowned birding destination. It is my intent to write a mytho-poetic epic novel that will be aimed at a Young Adult audience, and which will be something of a fantasy adventure, with talking butterflies, birds and tress encountered by the “hero” along the way. The protagonist will also travel back and forth between past, present and future lives where he will experience all that he will be learning about the nature of our Earth Mother and the impact the Younger Brother (namely you and I..!) are having on Her long-term well-being.

I will be using my Facebook page and this site to keep you posted – with words and photos – on my adventures and the progress of my research and writing. -Namaste…

July 7, 2011

Journey to the Heart of the World


Update - January 4, 2011:

Today I am heading to La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta to begin learning from my friends the Mamos - the Elders - of the Kogui, Arhuacos, Cankuamo, and Wiwa. I will be posting updates on my adventure as often as possible, but there will be extended periods of time when I will not be on the computer or the internet. Photos and wisdom will be shared with all of you soon…

...from July, 2011:

This fall I will be accepting an invitation to journey to the Heart of the World – the high Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta of Colombia. This past May, I was honored to greet and escort the Mamos (the Elders) of the descendants of the Tairona of northern Colombia – the peoples of the Kogui, Arhuacos, Wiwa and Cankuamo. The Mamos had left the seclusion of their mountain home to participate in an historic gathering of Native American Elders from throughout the Americas at Menla Mountain in upstate New York.

The peoples of the Sierra Nevada fled the onslaught of the Spanish conquistadors at the time of Columbus and settled into seclusion in the Sierra Nevada, where their ways have remained largely unchanged for five hundred years. The Mamos are intensely spiritual and fully in touch with what they regard as our Earth Mother. They consider their purpose in life to be the care and nurturing of the planet, and they regard themselves as the Heart of the World.

They came to New York with a message for the peoples of the world – that their world, your world and my world, is in serious jeopardy. And the cause is not climate change or the over-use of fossil fuels. No, the problem - and the solution to the problem - is a spiritual one.

The Mamos refer to themselves as the Elder Brother, and to us in the so-called civilized West as the Younger Brother, and they have come to call us to participate in a global shift in consciousness. It is time, they say, for us to shift from blindly taking our marching orders from economic and political authority, and return to the natural order of spiritual authority. They are calling us to fundamentally change our relationship with our Earth Mother, to reclaim the spiritual relationship with Her that we were born with, but which we have un-learned. And we need to return to our spiritual roots NOW – before we destroy our Earth Mother forever, and ourselves with her.

The Mamos have invited me to be one of the very few outsiders ever allowed to become a part of their cultural family, and to learn at an experiential level their wisdom and their profound understanding of – and love for – our Earth Mother. And further, they have asked me to help them communicate their urgent spiritual message to the world. They have asked me to be a voice for the Heart of the World.

In the months to come, I will be using this forum to share with you my preparation for my journey, and then periodic reports from La Sierra. I will be largely “un-plugged” and living embedded alongside my new friends, exactly as they live, and will only have sporadic opportunities to return to the base of the mountain and update my journal here. And after my adventure of several months, I will be writing what I hope will be an important and engaging book that chronicles my journey, and mytho-poetically presents the poignant and important spiritual message of the Mamos – the spiritual message from the spiritual Heart of the World.

I invite you to follow my journey through the journal that will be this site in the coming months.

Below are a couple of videos and an excerpt from a book by another new friend, Wade Davis, Explorer-in-Residence with the National Geographic Society. Together the video clips and the writings provide something of an introduction to the amazing peoples of La Sierra.



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The Wayfinders

Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World

by Wade Davis

One of the intense pleasures of travel is the opportunity to live amongst peoples who have not forgotten the old ways, who still feel their past in the wind, touch it in stones polished by rain, taste it in the bitter leaves of plants. Just to know that, in the Amazon, the Jaguar shaman still journey beyond the Milky Way, that the myths of the Inuit elders still resonate with meaning, that the Buddhists in Tibet still pursue the breath of the Dharma is to remember the central revelation of anthropology: the idea that the social world in which we live does not exist in some absolute sense, but rather is simply one model of reality, the consequence of one set of intellectual and spiritual choices that our particular cultural lineage made, however successfully, many generations ago.

But whether we travel with the nomadic Penan in the forests of Borneo, a Vodoun acolyte in Haiti, a curandero in the high Andes of Peru, a Tamashek caravanseri in the red sands of the Saraha, or a yak herder on the slopes of Chomolungma, all these peoples teach us that there are other options, other possibilities, other ways of thinking and interacting with the earth. This is an idea that can only fill us with hope.

Together the myriad cultures make up an intellectual and spiritual web of life that envelopes the planet and is every bit as important to the well-being of the planet as is the biological web of life that we know as the biosphere. You might think of this social web of life as an “ethnosphere,” a term perhaps best defined as the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. The ethnosphere is humanity’s greatest legacy. It is the product of our dreams, the embodiment of our hopes, the symbol of all we are and all that we, as a wildly inquisitive and astonishingly adaptive species, have created.

And just as the biosphere, the biological matrix of life, is being severely eroded by the destruction of habitat and animal species, so too is the ethnosphere, only at a far greater rate. Of the 7,000 languages spoken today, fully half are not being taught to children. Effectively, unless something changes, they will disappear within our lifetimes. What this really means is that within a generation or two, we will be witnessing the loss of fully half of humanity’s social, cultural and intellectual legacy. This is the hidden backdrop of our age.

…there is one place in South America where the pre-Columbian voice remains direct and pure, unfettered by any filter save the slow turning of the world. In a bloodstained continent, the Indians of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta were never fully vanquished by the Spaniards. Descendants of an ancient civilization called the Tairona and numbering perhaps 30,000 today, the Kogi, Arhuacos and Wiwa long ago escaped death and pestilence to settle in a mountain paradise that soars 6,000 metres above the Caribbean coastal plain of Columbia. There, over the course of 500 years, they were inspired by an utterly new dream of the earth, a revelation that affirmed the existence of eternal laws that balanced the baroque potential of the human and spirit with all the forces of nature. The three peoples, separated by language but closely related by myth and memory, share a common adaptation and the same fundamental religions convictions. To this day they remain true to their ancient laws – the moral, ecological and spiritual dictates of the Serankua and the Great Mother – and are still led and inspired by a ritual priesthood of mamos. They believe and acknowledge explicitly that they are the guardians of the world, that their rituals maintain the balance and fertility of life. They are fully aware that their common ancestors, the Tairona, in 1591 waged fierce but futile war against the invaders. In their mountain redoubt, lost to history for at least three centuries, they chose deliberately to transform their civilization into a devotional culture of peace.

When the mamos (or priests) speak, they instantly reveal that their reference points are not of our world. They refer to Columbus as if his arrival were a recent event. They talk of the Great Mother as if she were alive – and for them she is, resonant and manifest in every instant in their concept of aluna, a word that translates as water, earth, matter, generative spirit, life force. What is important, what has ultimate value, what gives life purpose is not what is measured and seen but what exists in the realm of aluna, the abstract dimension of meaning. The nine-layered universe, the nine-tiered temple, the nine months a child spends in its mother’s womb are all reflections of the divine creation, and each informs the others. Thus a liana is also a snake, the mountains a model of the cosmos. The conical hats worn by the Arhuaco men represent the snowfields of the sacred peaks. The hairs on a person’s body echo the forest trees that cover the mountain flanks. Every element of nature is imbued with higher significance, such that even the most modest of creatures can be seen as a teacher, and the smallest grain of sand is a mirror of the universe.

In this cosmic scheme people are vital, for it is only through the human heart and imagination that the Great Mother may become manifest. For the Indians of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, people are not the problem but the solution. They call themselves the Elder Brothers and consider themselves to be the “heart of the world.” We outsiders who threaten the earth through our ignorance of the sacred law are dismissed as the Younger Brothers.

In many ways the homeland of the Kogi, Arhuacos and Wiwa is indeed a microcosm of the world and thus metaphorically its symbolic heart. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is the highest coastal mountain formation on earth. Geographically unconnected to the Andes, which form the Columbian frontier with Venezuela to the east, it floats on its own tectonic plate, triangular in outline, 150 kilometres to each side, attached to the South American continent but separated from it by rift valleys on all sides. Drained by thirty-five major watersheds, with a total area of more than 20,000 square kilometres, the massif rises within 50 kilometres from the sea to summit ice. Within its undulating folds and deep valleys may be found representatives of virtually every major ecosystem on the planet. There are coral reefs and mangrove swamps on the coast, tropical rainforests on the western flanks, deserts in the north, dry scrublands to the east, and soaring above all in the clouds and blowing rain, the alpine tundra and the snowfields where the priests go to make prayers and offerings. Close to the equator, with twelve hours of daylight and twelve of darkness, with six months of rain and six months without, the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is a world of balance and harmony – exactly, the Indians maintain, as the Great Mother intended it to be.

According to myth, the mountains were dreamed into existence when the Great Mother spun her thoughts and conceived the nine layers of the universe. To stabilize the world, she thrust her spindle into its axis and lifted up the massif. Then, uncoiling a length of cotton thread, she delineated the horizons of the civilized world, tracing a circle around the base of the Sierra Nevada, which she declared to be the homeland of her children.

This primordial act of creation is never forgotten. The loom, the act of spinning, the notion of a community woven into the fabric of a landscape, are for the people of the Sierra vital and living metaphors that consciously guide and direct their lives. They survive as farmers, and in order to exploit diverse agricultural zones, they are constantly on the move, harvesting manioc, maize, coffee, sugar and pineapples in the hot lowlands, planting potatoes and onions in the cold mist of the cloud forests, climbing higher still to graze cattle and gather thatch. They refer to these wanderings as threads, with the notion that over time a community lays down a protective cloak upon the earth. When they establish a garden, the women sow the southern half by planting in rows parallel to the sides of the plot. The men, responsible for the northern half, establish rows perpendicular to those laid down by the women, such that the two halves if folded one upon the other would produce a fabric. The garden is a piece of cloth. When the people pray they clasp in their hands small bundles of white cotton, symbols of the Great Mother who taught them to spin. The circular movement of hands in prayer recalls the moment when the Great Mother spun the universe into being. Her commandment was to protect everything she had woven. This was her law.

Those charged with the duty of leading all human beings in the ways of Serankua are the mamos, and their religious training is intense. The young acolytes are taken from their families at a young age, and then sequestered in a shadowy world of darkness, inside the kanˊkurua, the men’s temple, or in the immediate environs, for eighteen years – two periods of nine years that explicitly recall the nine months of gestation in a mother’s womb. Throughout their initiation, the acolytes are in the womb of the Great Mother, and for all those years the world exists only as an abstraction. They are enculturated into the realm of the sacred as they learn that their rituals and prayers alone maintain the cosmic and ecological balance of the world. After his arduous transformation, the young man is taken on a pilgrimage from the sea to the ice, from the cloud forests up through the rock and tussock grass to the páramo, the gateway to the heart of the world. For the first time in his life he sees the world not as an abstraction but as it actually exists in all its stunning beauty. The message is clear: It is his to protect.

From the coast he carries cotton, shells, and the pods of tropical plants to make pagamientos, or payments, at high sacred lakes where the wind is the breath of the Great Mother, and spirit guardians dwell, those with the responsibility of enforcing her laws. The offerings preserve life in all its manifestations. The pure thoughts of the pilgrim are as of seeds. From the páramo, he gathers to take back to the sea herbs and leaves of espeletia, a plant known in Spanish as “the friar,” because seen from a distance it can be mistaken for the silhouette of a man, a wandering monk lost in the swirling clouds and mist. Pilgrimage, movement through the landscape, is for the Elder Brothers a constant gesture of affirmation that binds together humans and nature in a single web of reciprocity.

Since Columbus, the people of the Sierra have watched in horror as outsiders violate the Great Mother, tearing down the forests, which they perceive to be the skin and fabric of her body, to establish plantations of foreign crops – bananas and sugar cane, marijuana, and now coca for the illicit production of cocaine. Drawn by the profits of the coca trade, and pursued by the military, leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries have entered the Sierra and engulfed the Indians. To the Elders, this danger from below is echoed by a threat from on high. The snowfields and glaciers of the Sierra are receding at an alarming rate, transforming the mountain ecology. For us these may seem like quite unrelated developments. But for the Elders they are inextricably linked to each other and to the folly of the Younger Brother, harbingers of the end of the world.

When I was last in the Sierra I traveled overland with the Arhuacos, a journey that began in their main centre of Nambusimake with a ritual purification, and then led to the sacred lakes and back to the sea. With me was Danilo Villafaña, son of Adalberto, and old friend of mine who was murdered by the paramilitaries. Danilo is today a political leader of the Arhuaco, but I remember him as an infant when I carried him on my back up and down the slopes of the then peaceful Sierra Nevada. Violence has been the backdrop of Danilo’s life, and scores of Kogis, Wiwas, and Arhuacos have been killed by the FARC (the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Columbia), slaughtered by the paramilitaries, or caught in the crossfire by the army. Still the Indians cling to peace. As Danilo told me as we sat by a stream in Nabusimake, “The spiritual world, the world of mamos, and the world of guns do not go together.”

When I returned from my pilgrimage I spoke with Ramon Gill, a highly respected Wiwa mamo. “The ancestors say,” he told me, “that one day the Younger Brother will wake up. But only when the violence of nature is on top of him. That’s when he will wake up. What are we going to do? Well, we are not going to fight. We just want to make people understand. We are here speaking calmly so that hopefully the world will listen.”

On January 9, 2004, at the height of the violence unleashed by the international consumption of cocaine, and after a two-year period that saw the death of several hundred men and women in the Sierra, including many mamos, the Kogi, Wiwa, and Arhuaco issued a joint declaration: “Who will pay the universal mother for the air we breathe, the water that flows, the light of the sun? Everything that exists has a spirit that is sacred and must be respected. Our law is the law of origins, the law of life. We invite all the Younger Brothers to be guardians of life. We affirm our promise to the Mother, and issue a call for solidarity and unity for all peoples and all nations.”

It is humbling to think that even as I write these words the mamos of the Elder Brothers, living just two hours by air from Miami Beach, are praying for our well-being and that of the entire earth.

One’s inclination upon hearing such an account is to dismiss it as being hopelessly naïve or so impossibly beautiful as to be untrue. This, sadly, has too often been our response to cultures we encounter but do not understand, whose profound complexities are so dazzling as to overwhelm.

* * * * *

[These stories] set out to ask “why ancient wisdom matters in the modern world.” The phrase is somewhat flawed, implying if it does that the many remarkable people we have encountered are somehow vestigial, archaic voices stranded in time, having at best a vague advisory role to play in contemporary life. In truth, all the cultures I have referenced in these lectures – the Tibetans and the San, the Arhuacos, Wiwas and Kogi, the Kiowa, Barasana, Makuna, Penan, Rendille, Tahltan, Gitxsan, Wetˊsuwetˊen, Haida, Inuit, and all the peoples of Polynesia – are very much alive and fighting not only for their cultural survival but also to take part in a global dialogue that will define the future of life on earth. There are currently 1,500 languages gathered around the campfire of the Internet and the number is increasing by the week. Why should their voices be heard? There are scores of reasons, many of which I have alluded to at least implicitly in these lectures. But to sum it up, two words will do. Climate change. There is no serious scientist alive who questions the severity and implications of this crisis, or the factors, decisions and priorities that caused it to occur. It has come about because of the consequences of a particular world view. We have for three centuries now, as Thom Hartmann has written, consumed the ancient sunlight of the world. Our economic models are projections and arrows when they should be circles. To define perpetual growth on a finite planet as the sole measure of economic well-being is to engage in a form of slow collective suicide. To deny or exclude from the calculus of governance and economy the costs of violating the biological support systems of life is the logic of delusion.

These voices matter because they can still be heard to remind us that there are indeed alternatives, other ways of orienting human beings in social, spiritual, and ecological space. This is not to suggest naively that we abandon everything and attempt to mimic the ways of non-industrial societies, or that any culture be asked to forfeit its right to benefit from the genius of technology. It is rather to draw inspiration and comfort from the fact that the path we have taken is not the only one available, that our destiny therefore is not indelibly written in a set of choices that demonstrably and scientifically have been proven not to be wise. By their very existence the diverse cultures of the world bear witness to the folly of those who say that we cannot change, as we all know we must, the fundamental manner in which we inhabit this planet.

~ from The Wayfinders – Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, by Wade Davis.

Wade Davis is an award-winning anthropologist, ethnobotanist, filmmaker and photographer. He currently holds the post of Explorer-in-Residence with the National Geographic Society. He is the bestselling author of The Serpent and the Rainbow, Light at the Top of the World, and One River.